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The Pandemic Blindspot; Why is There so Little Coverage of Nursing Home Fiascos?

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of
AP Photo/Matt Rourke

The promises and predictions in the media have been plentiful. The failing of those pandemic predictions has nearly been as widespread. As consistently wrong as these seers of doom in the press have been there is one other failing they have been adept at delivering; holding local officials accountable. Headlines have blared about governors making decisions which could lead to disaster, but when it comes to those who have instituted provably bad policy there has been far less enthusiasm. 


For a time New York’s Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) had been something of a media darling. For a time he was hailed for his leadership and his ability to either work with President Trump, or call out the administration for supposed problematic responses. For a time he was hinted at as a possible presidential ticket name. That time has ended. In recent weeks, Gov. Cuomo’s swelling presence has ebbed as problems with the response in his state have been revealed, with one in particular being a jarring reality. 

Gov. Cuomo’s largest issue has been the policy of sending patients who were positive for the coronavirus into nursing homes, alongside the most vulnerable segment of our population. As we are gradually starting to realize, this completely wrong-headed decision was not isolated to Gov. Cuomo’s realm. A number of other governors have also had this policy instituted in their states, yet the national press has not been dutiful in reporting these narrative-busting examples. 

Another media darling has been Michigan’s Governor Gretchen Whitmer (D). The press has been swooning over her for months, and she has tried to parlay that into a selection as Joe Biden’s running mate. She has applied less energy to her own state’s needs. It was revealed, while she accused President Trump of denying aid, that her office had failed to fill out basic paperwork for FEMA assistance. Now, Gov. Whitmer has been contending with the reality that, like Gov. Cuomo, she is looked at as responsible for placing infected elderly patients into nursing homes. And like Gov. Cuomo, the media enthusiasm behind her is waning. 


The practice was in establishing what were called "hubs" throughout Michigan, nearly two dozen nursing homes which were designated to take in coronavirus-positive individuals. These facilities were paid $5,000 for every patient taken in, on top of a daily stipend for each. One local news outlet found that barely half of these locations had even been inspected since the policy was instituted. The state legislature, already embattled with the governess, has become incensed over this policy. 

We are seeing that Michigan is hardly an outlier. One stark reality surrounding the coronavirus is that it is especially pernicious towards the elderly. The bulk of the cases seen are in the 60 years and older range, and the deaths are also remarkably high in that demographic. This has been a known reality about this virus from early in the outbreak, so why would any policy be put 

in place where the infected are inserted into a closed environment alongside the most vulnerable? And why was this decision so widespread? 

In California they too had policies in place requiring nursing homes to take in residents who tested positive. It has been estimated that 40% of the deaths in that state derived from nursing homes. More alarming is the number in Minnesota, where over 80% of the deaths are nursing home related. That state has the acceptance policy in place, as does New Jersey which also saw 40% of its victims from nursing homes. Perhaps one of the most bothersome examples of this fractured policy is in Pennsylvania. 


Governor Tom Wolf (D) has been especially strong-armed in his shutdown policies. He has threatened any businesses that might dare reopen, and even said counties relaxing restrictions could have federal funding stripped from them. Meanwhile Wolf has been less diligent on the care of the elderly. In his state two-thirds of all COVID fatalities are from nursing homes, all while a scandal has percolated. One medical official, Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine, who is charged with overseeing nursing homes, saw fit to have her mother moved out of one facility to a private hotel as deaths in these facilities were spiking. 

When it comes to national coverage of the states the mainstream press has been particularly focused only on the decisions they disagree with, with the coverage being of the variety of promised calamity. When Georgia’s Governor Brian Kemp (R) announced his state would be among the first to lower stay-at-home restrictions the outrage in the media was palpable. Now it is seen, well after the incubation period, the promised outbreak of swaths of new cases never materialized. In South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem (R) resisted closing down her state. There were assurances this would make the state a COVID hotspot, as the media angrily lectured the decision. Their caseload has decreased over the past month. 


In Florida, there has been plenty to outrage the press. When it was announced that Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) was opening up some beaches the New York press went into outrage overdrive, declaring this to be the worst decision possible and even launching the #FloridaMorons hashtag. Yet, while people at Jacksonville were segregated in the sun - a known killer of the virus itself - in New York city, where the Daily Beast is headquartered, they were still operating the subways. It was only later when the idea emerged to actually begin cleaning the cars. 

Florida had been predicted to be swamped with over 450,000 COVID patients in hospitals by the end of April, but as that date arrived Gov. DeSantis held a press conference to detail the reality. The state had slightly over 2,000 active cases. While the news scribblers were wringing their hands about beaches, Gov. DeSantis was putting in place a program to tamp down nursing home deaths. Florida has had about 15% of the number that New York has experienced. Great news, but apparently it was not great enough to warrant an equal amount of headlines. 

This has been the practice of our press. Rely on hysterical predictions to forward the messaging while ignoring the trenchant provable news items which should be reported. The narrative is always more important than public information. 


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